By women, for women

Amrita Prasad
Thursday, 12 July 2018

Sister Library, a travelling collection of curated literary works by women, is in the city at TIFA studios. Aqui Thami, the person behind it, explains the concept

Books, ideas, stories, new ways of looking at the world and within,” is her answer when asked what is it about libraries that fascinates her so much. Aqui Thami, an artist, activist and academician from Darjeeling, uses art as a medium for storytelling, believing that it can truly empower individuals and communities. Thami, who currently lives in Mumbai, is bringing to Pune her Sister Library — a travelling collection of curated literary works, exclusively by women. 

The exhibition, being hosted at TIFA Working Studios till July 15, has a hundred works of women writers, artists and zine makers. Some of the authors in the collection include Alison Bechdel, Naomi Wolf, Angela Davis, Bell Hooks, Sharmila Rege, Taslima Nasrin and Nayyirah Waheed. Sister Library also includes around 30 self-published books and zines.  

Aimed at bringing together readers to explore the literary contribution of women, the project also offers  short film screening, discussion and readings from the books, plus a reading circle where people bring their favourite works of women and share them with everyone, a poster-making workshop and reading of works around women’s health from the collection. Thami, who has put up about 100 posters with phrases and sentences that pose important questions surrounding women and harassment that they face in places around Mumbai, has been working in the Dharavi Art Room to help provide women and children a platform to express and use art as an therapy.  
Here’s chatting her up:  

When and how was the idea of starting Sister Library conceived? While selecting the books and authors, did you have any specific theme or criterion in mind, apart from the fact that the books should be written by women? 
When we (Bombay Underground) run neighbourhood library projects and reading spaces, I often see people not interacting with the works of women. To have people read more women, I started a project called Reading Women Book Club (RWBC) where 10 works of women were explored over four months, following which we made a zine inspired by those works. 

All the women who were a part of RWBC were so happy with the experience. That gave me the courage to put down on paper what I had always desired for, a space with works of women exclusively.

What is the awareness and acceptance of a travelling library as an art work in India and the others parts of the world? What is the objective behind organising Sister Library?
The concept of Social Practice Art is still not a very familiar one in India. In other parts of the world, there have been many distros, feminist libraries that are spaces for free expression and change. The objective of Sister Library is to bring together readers to explore the literary contributions, showcase the artistic quality and celebrate the contributions of women in the creative world and to foster interests and understanding of the accomplishments of women writers and artists.

Since it is a travelling collection of curated literary works, do you change/alter it while travelling from one city to the other?
Yes, every city I travel to, I take a freshly curated collection of a hundred zines and books, based on how I have experienced the city in the past.

If people donate books that go with the aesthetics and sensibilities of your collection, would you establish a permanent library? How will people have access to it? 
Yes, that is the dream. I would love to have a volunteer-run, community-owned Sister Library. But from experience, I know a brick and mortar space means having funds to run without which it simply cannot exist.

What kind of interaction takes place between visitors/readers coming to the exhibition and the literary works? 
Most people who come are very happy to be surrounded by works of women in such a big number. I get a lot of thank-yous for bringing the SL to their city. People who come also become friends with each other and I find that really heart-warming. 

You are also a zinester. How do you use this experience here? 
SL has a good mix of zines and alternative and independently published works. Zines have ideas that are unedited and uncensored. Sharing this part of creative writing and exchange is what I do from my experiences as a zinester.

Given that all the books are written by women authors, did you find it difficult to source books from certain genres? 
Yes, that is another reason why I really want to make a space where works of women are easily available, no matter what the genre.

Does the name Sister Library indicate feminism? How do you define feminism and portrayal of women in literary works? 
Sister Library definitely does indicate feminism. The mainstream portrayal of women is not very relatable to me, the characters are not very nuanced. However, there is a lot of work on women and feminist writing in the alternative scene.

ST Reader Service 
Be a part of Sister Library at TIFA Working Studios, Pune Station Road, Sadhu Vasvani Nagar, Somwar Peth which will be on till July 15.  Timing:  Between 3 and 7 pm 

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